Trade Union Movement
The Hon. IAN WEST [2.30 p.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(a) notes that the refurbished Trades Hall in Goulburn Street was officially opened on May Day, 1 May 2007, by the Governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir,
(b) congratulates Unions NSW and affiliated trade unions on the opening of the refurbished Trades Hall, and
(c) recognises the contribution of the trade union movement to the history of New South Wales.
This year on 1 May, which was May Day, the Governor of the New South Wales, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, officially opened the new Trades Hall in Goulburn Street. The event marked the culmination of five years work to restore the magnificent building that has been the home of the trade union movement in New South Wales for more than 100 years. Internally, the building now has a modern, environmentally friendly design while maintaining some of its historical features. The renovations preserved the Goulburn and Dixon streets facades. Balconies were restored to their original design. The internal main corridors were preserved, and so were the original ceilings and ceiling decorations. Signs referring to early tenants still decorate the internal walls.
The opening of the refurbished building is significant for two major reasons. First, it was significant that Her Excellency the Governor open the refurbished building because she continued the fine tradition of vice-regal blessings of the hall. In 1888 the then New South Wales Governor, Lord Carrington, laid the foundation stone of what was to become the Trades Hall in the presence of four State governors and five bishops as well as many workers and officials representing both capital and labour. Ironically, in 1888 the conservative Government of the day helped to kick-start construction of the Trades Hall with a £6,000 grant. The grant is mostly credited to the Hon. Henry Copeland, who was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, a mining entrepreneur, farmer and supporter of the eight-hour day movement. He was regarded as a very forward-thinking conservative in his day.
Because of turbulent economic circumstances at the turn of the twentieth century it took 28 years to complete the final stage of the building. However, as different stages were completed the building was used for numerous purposes, including trade union offices, public meeting rooms to discuss matters such as women's and indigenous issues, a library for working men and women and the unemployed, classes on first aid conducted by the Ambulance Service, establishment of radio station 2KY, and the commencement of the forerunner to the Workers Education Association [WEA], which commenced classes in the 1880s, specialising in literacy and numeracy.
The Trades Hall building was heritage listed in 1977 because of its historical significance. The New South Wales Heritage Office's records show that the Trades Hall was "held in high esteem by the working community" and was "a fitting reminder of an important part of Australia's history which was to be followed by many Western countries." In 2002 Unions New South Wales, which was then known as the Labor Council, commissioned the conservation, restoration and refurbishment of the building. The refurbishment was largely funded by the sale of 2KY. Renovation of the building will ensure not only that it remains a fitting reminder of Australia's history but also that it will continue to be a place where people make a positive contribution to the history of the State.
The second reason why the opening of the refurbished Trades Hall is significant is that it coincides with the greatest upheaval in Australia's industrial relations system in 100 years. Just as Australia's industrial relations went through reforms in 1881 when the original Trades Hall was constructed, the Federal Government's WorkChoices laws represent radical change. An examination of the history of industrial relations in Australia exposes many of the lies in the current Federal Government's selling of WorkChoices. First, the Federal Government likes to sell its industrial relations package as modern and the way of the future. The Federal Government's WorkChoices website quite overtly describes the legislation as "Our plan for a modern workplace and a new workplace relations system". However, when we examine history we find that with industrial relations the more things change the more they stay the same—and the more they can revert to bygone days.
Although the jargon is different, a system similar to WorkChoices operated approximately 125 years ago. WorkChoices is an attempt to restore the contract approach to industrial relations that operated during the nineteenth century, not the twentieth century. This means that employment relations are governed by a civil contract between an employer and an employee. Before the enactment of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 and the 1881 trade union Acts in various States and Territories, employment relationships were governed by the Master and Servant Act 1828 passed by the New South Wales Legislative Council, the only House of Parliament in New South Wales at that time.
In a nutshell, that Act merely provided penalties for breach of contract between master and servant. Recourse for breach of contract had to be sought through the expensive and time-consuming civil courts system. Does that sound familiar? That system worked fine during the mid-nineteenth century when Australia was experiencing a boom and labour was scarce. But when servants sought a remedy they could not proceed through the court system as it was extremely expensive and they did not have the means to pursue a remedy in that way.
Further, as the economic downturn took hold in the late nineteenth century the situation turned quite ugly. As labour became more plentiful employers sought to reduce the wages of their employees. The young bucks of the day and those who had something to prove said that if they could not access remedy by some cheap, cost-effective, fast, specialist court they would find another way. That led to the great strikes of the 1890s—the maritime strike of 1890, the Broken Hill miners' strikes of 1892, and the shearers' strikes of 1891, 1892, 1894 and 1895. It is interesting to note that State governments had some level of involvement in those strikes as a third party when they brought to bear all the various civil court and criminal legislation that was available to imprison people who were so dastardly as to actually say that they wanted a fair go!
During the maritime strike the army was called in to replace the striking workers. Criminal legislation outside the Masters and Servants Act was used against striking workers. For example, in the 1891 shearers strike 13 union leaders were charged with sedition and conspiracy and were convicted and sentenced to three years jail. The turmoil of that era led to the newly formed Australian Commonwealth. Under section 51 of the Australian Constitution the Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1904 was adopted. Many people from organised capital and organised labour in those days were very much against the Act as a way of bringing about peaceful settlement. They wanted the old systems to prevail, but those of sounder mind created the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, the forerunner to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.
The Act recognised that the contract system had brought the country to its knees and needed to be replaced by a system whereby workers and bosses, organised labour and organised capital, could resolve their differences quickly, peacefully, cost-effectively and gain remedy and equity in a court that was specialised for the task. Even conservatives—organised capital registered under various State trade union Acts—appreciated the importance of peaceful settlement and equitable access to remedy. In 1942 the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, said that his party:
? believes in trade unions and in the protection by law of the rights secured by wage earners. And because it believes in all these things, it stands for a fair industrial law which will be enforced without fear, favour or
affection against employer and employee alike. We aim at high wages, good conditions, sharing of prosperity, the independent settlement of differences by conciliation and arbitration ?
That seems to be a far cry from what Sir Robert's self-styled disciple of today is trying to achieve—that is, taking us back to the 1880s and the 1890s. The object of the Federal Government's workplace laws, both WorkChoices and the Independent Contractors Act, is to return us to master and servant and to the contract system devoid of any specialist arbitration. WorkChoices does it under the guise of Australian workplace agreements, known as AWAs. The agreements seek to put employees outside the reach of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and, in the Prime Minister's own jargon, "give a much greater focus on agreement-making at the workplace level". If only he understood the complexities of the environment and that there are degrees of making agreements—at the enterprise, industry, State or Federal level.
The flexibilities need to be there for people to make choices. Under the guise of choice and flexibility we have achieved the opposite: an inflexible system in which there is no choice. The claim that an Australian workplace agreement is actually an agreement is one of the more subtle lies of the Federal Government's sales pitch, as very rarely do those contracts go through any genuine negotiation or agreement. There is no arbiter for negotiations in many cases. Unless there is a shortage of labour the employer can set the conditions of an agreement, which the employee has no choice but to sign.
Further, if there is a dispute over an Australian workplace agreement, such as if the boss is not paying the right amount, the agreement has to be signed. In any agreement under WorkChoices the Australian Industrial Relations Commission has been reduced to a toothless tiger. Under WorkChoices the commission has the power to hear cases only if the parties agree, and even then it has lost the power to arbitrate in such matters, so its decisions are completely and utterly non-binding. So to get any binding decision the employee is forced back into the civil courts. Because WorkChoices is Federal legislation, workers are forced into the Federal Court.
A worker in a New South Wales enterprise under an Australian workplace agreement who wants that agreement enforced has to go into the expensive Federal system. The present system is similar to the one applying in 1880, when the first block of the Trades Hall was being built in Goulburn Street by Henry Copeland, a member of this House.
Indeed, the reason for the establishment of the position of the Workplace Ombudsman, formerly known as the Office of Workplace Services, seems to be to take heat off the Federal Government when a boss is caught out in the media exploiting WorkChoices. If an employee's dispute is not significant enough to appear in the pages of the Daily Telegraph that employee could very well be in a situation where he or she could independently pursue the action. Imagine a situation where a cleaner or a retail assistant is forced to the Federal Court to claim lost wages! Although the jargon is different, this is the same contract system that operated in the nineteenth century.
Another great fallacy is that WorkChoices is simpler and more flexible. The lie in the selling of the Federal Government's industrial relations laws is that they are more flexible. During the WorkChoices second reading speech the previous Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, said:
The laws accommodate the greater demand for choice and flexibility in our workplaces.
I have spoken about Australian workplace agreements being a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, that they may offer some flexibility for employers but no flexibility for employees. There was more flexibility during the pre-WorkChoices era because employees and employers could determine what was best for them on a more level playing field. A system whereby the employer unilaterally determines not only the conditions of an agreement but also the type of agreement, be it individual or collective, is clearly not flexible.
It is arguable that flexibility for many employers would also be diminished as certain labour-intensive businesses tried to outdo each other in cutting wages. The business that does not cut wages is put at a disadvantage to a competitor that does. As I have already argued, WorkChoices is a return to the contract system. The Conciliation and Arbitration Court was created to allow flexibility in the system and to stop the situation occurring. No matter what the labour arrangements were, the court had the ability to institute flexibility to accommodate the arrangements.
Currently, the other thing that is frowned upon is third party interference. Historically, third parties have been involved in the system. As I said earlier, the third great lie, the Federal Government's WorkChoices sales pitch, is that the legislation seeks to reduce the interference by third parties. If we define third party interference as anything that influences, controls or limits the bargaining between the two key stakeholders in the employment relationship—employees, employers and their registered organisations—WorkChoices has caused an explosion of third-party involvement. Through this legislation, the Federal Government has already acted as a third party in reducing the bargaining power of workers and their representatives.
The Federal Government, as a third party, also regulates what can and cannot be part of an agreement through prohibited content provisions. Things that cannot be part of an agreement include union-backed safety training, restrictions on the use of independent contractors or labour hire, and anything else the Minister dictates through regulation. The Federal Government introduced the Workplace Authority, the Workplace Ombudsman and the Australian Fair Pay Commission as third parties to regulate the system, while without a trace of irony emasculating the Industrial Relations Commission under the argument that somehow it was a third party. It is not just the Federal Government that practices third-party interference in the employment relationship. On 18 June 2007 the Australian Financial Review reported:
There is a surge in business employing workplace consultants as third parties to survey the morale of staff.
The elephant in the room is that the third party has come to mean, in the definition of the Federal Government and Opposition members, anything that improves an employee's bargaining power, specifically the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and trade unions. The final great lie is the myth that individualism is good and somehow collectivism is bad for workers. The Federal Government is keen to promote the idea that individual contracts are good for workers. On an episode of Four Corners that aired in September 2005 the Prime Minister said:
If we, individual employers and employees, work out the arrangements that best suit them, the businesses go better, they make more money and they pay their workers higher wages.
Strangely, workers are one of the few groups that benefit from this economic theory, according to the Federal Government. In the wake of a decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] to green light collective bargaining in the dairy industry, the Federal Government's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss, said in a press release:
The ACCC's decision to allow dairy farmers to bargain collectively is a fair and sensible one and should redress some of the imbalance in market power currently present in the Australian dairy industry. Collective bargaining can empower farmers to negotiate, not only on prices, but also on other conditions relating to their supply contracts. This enhances their ability to manage the risks inherent in running a complex business such as dairying.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry even went to the extent of putting on $100,000 workshops to facilitate collective bargaining by dairy farmers. I wonder whether Mr Truss thinks employees can derive similar benefits from collective bargaining. There has been a more recent example of the Federal Government's passion for collective bargaining. Recently, advertisements have been run in the press—I have an example from the Daily Telegraph dated 7 June—encouraging businesses to collectively bargain with their customers and suppliers. The advertisement, entitled "Collective Bargaining—making it easier to business", states:
Small businesses can benefit by joining together to negotiate with a larger business, who is their common customer and supplier.
Larger businesses can find it more efficient to negotiate directly with a group of small businesses rather than each small business individually.
I merely ask: Does the Federal Government sing the praises of collective bargaining for businesses but for no-one else? If it is the case that the time has come for collective bargaining and that from 1880 through to the present day collective bargaining has been a fallacy, we need to know about it. Obviously, the Federal Government is very aware of the benefits of collective bargaining and it is trying to ensure that workers do not have the ability to collectively bargain.
The success of organised labour is evidenced by the desperate attempts by the current Federal Government and organised employer unions to curtail that success. If we look at history and ask ourselves whether collectivism has improved the lot of workers we find that the answer to that question is undoubtedly yes. Since the earliest years of European settlement when convicts were on strike to have rations paid daily rather than weekly, collective action has been the one thing that the organised workforce has been able to rely upon to make gains. During 1856 collective action brought in the eight-hour day for stonemasons in New South Wales, and through collective action in 1871 four other building trades were able to win an eight-hour day.
In 1916 these actions led the way for the eight-hour day for all New South Wales workers through State government legislation. In 1947 the Federal Court of Conciliation and Arbitration granted a 40-hour week, typically meaning Saturdays off for all workers. As well as increasing family time, collectivism has increased the wages of working people and given them entitlements such as annual leave, sick leave and safer workplaces. The money value of these entitlements is that inflation cannot catch up with them. For example, collective action was used to win accident pay for building workers.
During the construction of the Sydney Opera House, in 1971 building workers led a 19-day general strike to demand full pay from their employers if they were injured at work. Before accident pay was brought in, workers would receive only a certain percentage of their income if they were injured. The workers said, "If a horse was injured you would not give them half the feed, so why do the same for employees?"— During the construction of the Sydney Opera House, in 1971 building workers led a 19-day general strike to demand full pay from their employers if they were injured at work. Before accident pay was brought in, workers would receive only a certain percentage of their income if they were injured. The workers said, "If a horse was injured you would not give them half the feed, so why do the same for employees?"—in this case, Sydney Opera House employees. Although the claim seems reasonable today, F. J. Darling, Executive Director of the Employers Federation, described the campaign as reckless and lawlessness.
At the time the New South Wales Askin Government offered workers extra pay to drop the claim. Although the extra pay was financially more generous than what the workers were seeking, the workers rightly believed that any pay rise would eventually be eaten up by inflation. The New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission ruled in their favour and the Supreme Court agreed with the decision when it was appealed by employers.
The victory could not be diminished by inflation. Apart from securing improvements in the workplace, the union movement has also been an important vehicle for numerous social changes. For example, the idea of universal health care originated in the union movement with the formation of friendly societies in the 1800s. Friendly societies where an early form of insurance and provided medical treatment, income for the unemployed, dentistry services, mortality funds and legacy for widows and for the children of service men and women. Workers made the first claim for superannuation in 1834. Unions have made an endless number of claims, which I cannot do justice to in the time remaining. [ Time expired.]
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN [3.00 p.m.]: It is a pleasure to speak to the motion moved by the Hon. Ian West. In this country the union movement has a rich history of fighting for workers' rights. The Sydney Trades and Labor Council was formed in 1871 to give unions a central place to coordinate their activities. From 1872 the Sydney Trades and Labor Council explored ways of developing a central meeting place for unions. In 1885 the Trades Hall Committee stated that the hall would:
? bring us into closer contact, by which means we would have a better opportunity of understanding each other's wants and cultivating that feeling of fellowship which is at all times desirable.
From the outset the committee lobbied a number of politicians and, as a result, there was an early offer of land near Circular Quay. At its first meeting the Trades Hall Committee had a mere £3. Later that year the committee was successful in gaining a £6,000 contribution from the then Conservative Government, and supporter Henry Copeland MLA recommended that a block of land on the corner of Goulburn and Dixon streets be granted for the construction of the building. This offer was accepted. The Government bought the land and Queen Victoria granted it to the trustees, who would hold it in trust for the purpose of building and maintaining a trades hall and literary institute. In 1886 the Trades Hall Association was incorporated as the Trades and Industrial Hall and Literary Institute Association of Sydney. The objective of the association was to provide:
? a large hall in which to hold lectures, special meetings of societies and entertainments.
At the time the unions that held shares were the iron moulders, shipwrights, bricklayers, boilermakers, stonemasons, journeymen tailors, carpenters and joiners, typographers, plumbers, gasfitters, ironworkers, coach makers, journeymen farriers, drapers, coopers, and saddle, harness and collar makers. Construction began in 1888, and the work reflected the combined skills of these trades. The association faced funding difficulties from the beginning, but much of the early finance came from fundraising events organised by the Eight Hour Day Committee. The association succeeded eventually because of these fundraising efforts, and in 1895 the Trades Hall was officially opened by the Hon. Jacob Gerrard.
In 1902 a boost to union membership meant more funds for the association. This allowed it to borrow money for the purpose of purchasing adjacent land. In 1907 more land was purchased, and the expansion and development of the hall continued until the completion of the auditorium in 1917. Other works undertaken during the development included the construction of a banner room, which housed 33 union banners, and a barbershop and reading room on the ground floor. The office of the Trades and Industrial Hall and Literary Institute Association of Sydney was completed in 1914. In 1925 the Labor Council of New South Wales was successful in obtaining a radio licence, and 2KY radio began broadcasting from the tower room. This was viewed as an extension of the educational role of the unions.
Today the Sydney Trades Hall is recognised as being the centre of the trade union movement in New South Wales. It is one of two significant buildings in Australian union history—the other being the Melbourne Trades Hall, which is older and larger than the Sydney Trades Hall. The iconic Sydney Trades Hall is the product of the hard work of employees throughout the years. Its sole purpose was to bring union members together and to provide a meeting place for the many unions. It is a building that I know many union members are very proud of and, in line with the motion, I congratulate Unions New South Wales and affiliated trade unions on their commitment to restoring one of our most prized possessions.
My union involvement relates primarily to the Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union of New South Wales—which is now known as the United Services Union—and to my tenure as the national vice president and senior vice president of the Australian Services Union. My union has worked diligently since 1903 to ensure that the rights and entitlements of local government workers have been protected and improved. It could also be said that the achievements of the union had benefited not only its members but anyone working in the local government sector. Indeed, some of its initiatives go beyond the scope of local government.
I will outline some of the benefits that my union has achieved in New South Wales. In the 1890s New South Wales was recovering from a devastating depression. It was difficult for any awards or conditions to be established following such a difficult time. The Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union [MEU] was founded in New South Wales in 1903, and registered on 10 February that year. By 1922 there were 320 local government authorities, and council employees' coverage extended to abattoirs, water supplies, sewage and waste management bodies, planning organisations, noxious weed authorities, farm produce market organisations, cemetery trusts, and electricity distribution, transmission and generating authorities. Membership began to flourish and has since covered many more employees, ranging from labourers to engineers and general managers.
Over the years the union has been involved in a range of disputes over leave conditions. In 1903 Sydney City Council salaried staff received two weeks annual leave and wages staff received only eight days annual leave. The union campaigned for a uniform standard. By 1919 all city council employees were awarded 18 days annual leave and in 1921 the award was altered to three weeks leave. In May 1944 a Labor government was in power and the union campaigns intensified. Members approached their local members of Parliament and demanded that the Government legislate for an extended period of annual leave. This campaign was successful.
During World War II the union also campaigned for councils to grant one additional day's leave for each year of war service by employees, and by 1945 70 councils had agreed to this. In the 1960s the unions campaigned again for annual leave to be increased to four weeks. The first council to agree was the city council in 1961, followed by Sydney County Council in 1962 and the Electricity Commission in 1963. Other councils followed, and by 1964 more than 50 per cent of members were entitled to four weeks annual leave. In 1970 the fight for leave loading was initiated and Sydney County Council granted a loading of 17½ During World War II the union also campaigned for councils to grant one additional day's leave for each year of war service by employees, and by 1945 70 councils had agreed to this. In the 1960s the unions campaigned again for annual leave to be increased to four weeks. The first council to agree was the city council in 1961, followed by Sydney County Council in 1962 and the Electricity Commission in 1963. Other councils followed, and by 1964 more than 50 per cent of members were entitled to four weeks annual leave. In 1970 the fight for leave loading was initiated and Sydney County Council granted a loading of 17½ per cent. This was added to subsequent awards, and in some awards the loading increased to up to 25 per cent during the 1980s.
In 1912 the union was successful in obtaining long service leave for employees at the city council, which gave them three months leave after 15 years of service. Employees accrued leave proportionately thereafter. This was an outstanding achievement as the Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union had been registered only nine years earlier. It also showed the strength of the union and its negotiating skills. The next improvement came in 1964 when employees covered by State awards were entitled to proportionate leave after 10 years of service. After the Labor Government amended the Long Service Leave Act in 1985 awards were changed to add to an employee's leave any public holidays that occurred while he or she was on long service leave. Another major battle involving long service leave awards was for the recognition of continuous prior service by employees who took up employment with different councils. This fight for recognition began in 1965 and it was not until 1970 that continuous prior service was finally recognised. Fortunately, today local government is recognised as a sector and those employees who accept employment with another council have their rights and entitlements protected—as indeed they should.
The union was at the forefront of the campaign opposing the proposal to conscript men between 21 and 45 years of age for service in World War I. In 1916 it joined forces with the Political Labor League—the formal title of the Labor Party at the time—and the Labor Council to generate opposition to the proposal. At the beginning of the war there were so many volunteers that people had to be turned away. However, as the war raged on and casualty rates rose, the Australian Imperial Forces faced a severe shortage of men.
Despite opposition from his own members, Prime Minister Billy Hughes decided to put the need for conscription to the Australian public and to hold a referendum. In October 1916 the proposal to introduce conscription was narrowly defeated and, following the huge political fallout, the Prime Minister called another referendum in 1917, again resulting in the no vote. The members of the Federated Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union of Australia published a notice that stated:
Members of the Federated Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union of Australia attention is drawn to the resolution adopted by the Federal Council –
That this Conference reaffirms its determination to oppose any movement to reintroduce conscription; and it be a request to Branches in the various States to take whatever steps they deem fit to prevent the manhood of Australia being conscripted.
The unions launched a huge campaign for the no vote. The No Conscription Committee was established and left to tour the country areas, enlisting support as they went. The General Secretary of the time, Mr Jim Tyrell, pointed out that the electoral rolls had been closed within hours of the announcement that the referendum would take place. This meant that up to 60,000 voters were unable to take part in the vote. He also expressed concern over the decision to have Thursday as the polling day, citing that it would inconvenience voters who would have to take time off work to go and vote. Of course, that would not be easy. On 20 December 1917 the no vote registered 57 per cent—a convincing result. Following this result Mr Tyrell was quoted as saying that the result was the "greatest fight any community ever put up for freedom". In 1911 the MEU resolved, and I quote:
The Executive be instructed to take into consideration and report at the next meeting of the Union, the advisability of approaching all Labour Alderman of Municipal Councils with a view to establishing a Superannuation Fund based on similar lines to that of the Railway and Tramway Service. The said fund to be supported by all employees throughout the service and Councils be asked to subscribe to the said fund.
In February of that year it was decided that an Act of Parliament was required to make this resolution possible. However the Superannuation Bill was not supported by the Parliament. Despite this major hurdle, the first scheme to cover workers on their retirement provided workers with a retiring allowance of two weeks pay for every year of service for employees who had a minimum of three years service. However, this payment was not compulsory, nor did it cover all employees, and councils did not encourage employees to apply for the provision. A deputation was made to the Minister for Local Government requesting that the voluntary payment be made mandatory and that it be extended to all employees. This request faced a major setback when the Local Government and Shires Associations opposed these terms and schemes as it was believed that it would be too costly for councils to cover all of their employees.
By 1927 town or shire clerks, engineers and health inspectors were considered as permanent council employees and as such were brought into the Local Government Superannuation Scheme, and the fight continued to cover all employees. The union continued to fight for coverage of all employees, and it was only in the mid-1930s that the scheme was expanded to allow individual councils to extend its cover to all employees. Unfortunately, by 1937 only 15 councils had agreed to the new terms of covering all employees and the union was facing an uphill battle because many councils were strongly opposed to the extension due to the costs burden during the depression. Finally, in 1942 success was achieved and the Act was extended so that all employees were automatically entitled to the payment.
At the annual conference in 1970 there was some discussion about establishing a medical and hospital fund. Mr Roy Johnson, who was the Secretary of the Local Government Officers' Branch, was a passionate supporter of such a plan because of the loss of his own daughter to leukaemia in 1965. A group of members from the Wollongong area obtained registration for a fund under the then National Health Act. By the following year the Local Government Employees Medical and Hospital Club was established. The union executive stated that:
The Executive in supporting the formation of the Club congratulated the Local Government Hospital and Medical Club on their successful registration as a fund, designed primarily to adequately cater for union members in local government and urges support and membership of such fund by those eligible to ensure the fund's successful operation and enable the fund to provide increased benefits to its members.
When the club began in 1971 there were 511 members. Roy Johnson left the union to work full time as the executive officer for the club, and the following year the membership had grown to over 5,000. Throughout the years the club became known as the Government Employees Health Fund and it added a number of other brands, including Illawarra Health Fund, Senior Advantage, Mutual Health and Australian Country Health. These funds operated under the organisational umbrella of the Australian Health Management Group. By 2001 the Australian Health Management Group's combined membership rose to over 120,000. In 2005 the group merged all its funds into a single national brand—Australian Health Management. Roy Johnson worked very hard to set up and maintain the group that he organised in loving memory of his daughter, Lynne. He continued to work to promote and expand the fund up until his retirement in 1986.
Another resource that was set up to benefit members was a credit union. In the 1960s the union wanted to establish a financial service that would enable its members to access credit facilities that were more convenient and at a lower interest rate than those on offer at the time. The resolution stated:
Recognising that the majority of large numbers in the Australian work force encounter difficulties obtaining finance we recognise the value of and support the development of Credit Unions throughout the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues.
Sydney City Council Credit Union was formed in 1963 and was shortly followed by the Sydney County Council Credit Union and, astonishingly, by 1966 there were 40 credit unions throughout local government and in the Electricity Commission.
The unions also vigorously campaigned for equal pay rights for women in the 1950s when male delegates were appointed to the Council of Action for Equal Pay. In 1950 the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration decided to increase the female basic wage to 75 per cent of the male basic wage. Prior to this decision a woman's wage was a mere 54 per cent of a man's wage. There were weekly radio segments dedicated to the issue, and in 1956 the General Secretary, Peter McMahon, a former member of this House, stated:
A grave injustice is being done to women in industry where they are denied both legally and morally their right to earn on an equal status with their fellows because of their incompatible position.
Surely, in this democratic country of ours there should not exist this anomalous position. Women have a right to equal pay, whether they be employed in industry, commerce, public service or professions, so long as the output is equal to that of men.
In the capitalistic and monopolistic systems under which persons are employed today, there is, in many cases, a low value placed upon women's services in the community. This position has to be rectified. Women have proved themselves worthy of the highest reward in wartime, in the transitionary period to peace time and today.
The 1960s saw drastic changes in the stereotypical notion that men were the primary or sole breadwinners. Women workers were fed up with being paid less than their male colleagues. In 1969 the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission granted that women would be entitled to "equal pay for equal work"—where women who did equal work alongside men should receive equal pay. However, "equal pay" was not applicable where "the work in question is essentially or usually performed by females but is work upon which male employees may also be employed". In 1972 the commission widened the definition of "equal pay" to "equal pay for work of equal value". As a result some employers attempted to reclassify jobs as "women's jobs" on a different and lower scale to men in similar positions to avoid them having to pay women a higher wage. That is a discussion that continues today in some instances. We need to continue looking at those issues.
On 13th February 1978 Sydneysiders woke to the horrific news that a bomb had exploded outside the Hilton Hotel killing two innocent City Council garbage men.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher: And a policeman.
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN: And a policeman. I acknowledge the interjection by the Leader of the Opposition, who was a policeman. Alec Carter and William Arthur "Bluey" Favell were doing their morning rounds when the bomb was detonated. The Municipal Employees Union quickly swung into action and called a meeting of depot staff. Employees at the depot continued to work and donated their day's pay to a trust fund that was proposed to be set up for the families of the victims. A huge fundraising campaign began that same day. A fund was set up for the victim's families and over the following weeks a number of benefits and events were organised to help raise funds. By May the fundraising had raised a staggering $150,000, which was distributed between the widows and their children, and a trust fund was established to help with the educational costs for the children of the victims. Every year for 14 years following the tragedy a remembrance service was held at the George Street site; however, this was discontinued at the request of the family.
Whilst unions have worked tirelessly over the years to fight for the rights of workers, they also take on a number of responsibilities and provide the community with assistance and resources during times of need. In the instance of the Hilton Bombing the Municipal Employees Union and its many members banded together to provide support to each other and the families of those killed following this very sad incident. This motion acknowledges the contribution of the trade union movement in the history of New South Wales and I am very proud to have a background in a strong union that has fought for and supported so many people over the years.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER (Leader of the Opposition) [3.19 p.m.]: As was indicated earlier, Unions New South Wales was first formed in 1871 and originally named the Trades and Labor Council of Sydney because of the small number of trades, skilled workers and craft workers who were emerging at the time and blue-collar labourers who were coming from country New South Wales. In 1908 the Trades and Labor Council of Sydney became the Labor Council of New South Wales. In those early years it focused on one of two needs: to be in a position to influence government and to settle industrial disputes in New South Wales. It is the first need, the desire of the movement to put in place a mechanism that could influence governments of the day and ensure that the rights and needs of the working people of this State were involved in the process of determining current and future policy, that played such a significant role in the early 1890s in the development of the Australian Labor Party.
The motion is specific in its congratulations of the union movement and its recognition of refurbishment of the Trades Hall. From memory there have been just under 30 general secretaries of the Labor Council, some of whom are quite well known to members in this Chamber. Among them was a gentleman I called a friend prior to his passing, John Ducker. The Hon. Michael Costa held another position before he became general secretary—
The Hon. Rick Colless: Are you referring to him as a friend?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: I cannot put him in the same league as I put John Ducker. In his contribution the Hon. Ian West spoke about radio station 2KY. I remember fondly my invitation to go to a boardroom lunch at 2KY. I do not know whether the Hon. Ian West has ever been invited to lunch in the boardroom at 2KY—
Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes: I used to broadcast there every week.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: Until you found out what was going on and then you walked away! Back in those days I had the opportunity to meet Michael Costa. Subsequently I met John Robertson, the current General Secretary of the Labor Council. I remember an occasion last year when I was visiting Armidale. On a bitterly cold evening I was walking back to my accommodation when Robbo, with a few friends, offered me a lift. He said, "I can give you a lift back to your hotel in our vehicle."
The Hon. Greg Donnelly: In the orange bus?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: It was a bright orange bus! When he offered me a lift I decided that it was not really so cold after all and that the walk would to do me good! And I think the walk did me good in the long term. I declined Robbo's generous offer. John Robertson is well known to many in this Chamber. He is regarded as a strong advocate. Later I will recount another opportunity I had to talk to John Robertson about industrial relations and workers rights in New South Wales. The motion celebrates the refurbishment of the Trades Hall. My recollection is that its refurbishment was first discussed in 1998 under the stewardship of the then secretary, Michael Costa.
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: He is a good man.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: The honourable member suggests he is a good man. All I say in that regard is that we really should have spotted a bit of an ugly trend that was starting to develop back in 1998. His first objective in 1998 was to sell the hall to the developers who would do the refurbishment; he wanted to sell it off to the private sector to bring about the refurbishment.
Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes: Was he going to give the money to the Greens?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: No, I am sure the money would have gone into other erstwhile projects like Currawong.
The Hon. Penny Sharpe: He wants to sell that, too.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: I know. As I keep saying about Michael Costa, the Treasurer: he should change his name to L. J. Costa, because nobody is going to do it better when it comes to selling New South Wales! He tried to do the same with the Trades Hall after he replaced Peter Samms as general secretary. Between 1998 and 1999 two matters stand out among all the argy-bargy at the time. The first was Michael Costa's desire to give the Trades Hall to the private sector because he did not have sufficient confidence in his own organisation to do the job—and that is reflected in how he runs his portfolio responsibilities in New South Wales. The second was the urgent desire in 1998 to refurbish the Trades Hall—a job that was not completed for nearly 10 years. Generally speaking, in New South Wales it is a case of the same story with different actors, but with anything these guys are involved in it becomes the same story and the same actors! They are unable to get the job done in a reasonable time frame.
The Hon. Kayee Griffin referred to her union background. The Hon. Ian West has always been recognised for his union background. I am totally frustrated by the myth that is perpetrated by the Australian Labor Party that somehow only its members have the right to talk about workers rights, they having been members of unions. Well, I remind members on the Government side of the House that many members on this side of the Chamber have been members of unions at various times of their lives. Some would have left their union with good memories of their union being able to help fellow workers with problems in the workplace. Others, however, would have walked away with a bad taste in their mouths after witnessing the disparity between the needs of the workers in the workplace and the direction of union officials, which is more towards their needs and not necessarily those of the workers who pay their union fees.
I come from a very strong trade union background. For most of her life my mother was a factory worker. My father was a painter. I first joined the Union of Shop, Distributive, and Allied Workers in the late 1970s. I have been a continuous member of the New South Wales Police Association, an active participant in the Labor Council, for 28 years. I am a graduate from the Trade Union Training Authority, having been secretary delegate to the Police Association. I have been responsible for the opening of one or two branches of the New South Wales Police Association. It is fair to say that the myth perpetrated by some members of the Australian Labor Party that this side of politics is somehow anti-union and anti-worker is completely and totally false. But it is often used to mislead the working people of this State about our genuine desire to try to improve their lives and their jobs.
We on this side of politics are, however, very much against the thuggery that we see from time to time within the union movement. The union movement tries to keep a blanket over such behaviour, but it continues to raise its ugly head. I have asked questions in this House about violent assaults on one union worker in the Hunter Valley who was seriously bashed in his own home as a result of an industrial dispute. In the past couple of weeks we have seen a number of examples of the ugly side of the trade union movement. I am not suggesting for one moment that all trade union officials are that way inclined and I am not suggesting for one moment that the rank and file support such behaviour, but I am saying that the Australian Labor Party cannot have it both ways. It cannot try to project itself as the voice the worker and, at the same time, allow this thuggery, which amounts to criminal conduct, to develop and prosper within the labour movement.
It is quite hypocritical of the New South Wales Government to project an image of itself as the voice of the workers when it is aware that union bullying is occurring and does nothing to address it. Over the past few weeks I have noted the hypocrisy of the Government's approach to industrial relations in New South Wales and its opposition to changes implemented by the Federal Government. The Opposition acknowledges that there are good people in the trade union movement. Particularly in relation to workers compensation there have been opportunities for shadow industrial relations Ministers and other members of the Opposition to consult trade union leaders and reach agreement on matters affecting the best interests of workers in this State.
When workers compensation changes were being made by the Government, the Opposition was the sole voice drawing attention to the implications of the reforms and initiating debate between the two major political parties. When I refer to the ugly side of the trade union movement, I am reminded of the writings of one of my forebears, William Gallacher. He was born in Paisley near Glasgow, as I was, and he was very well known in British politics. He has the distinction of having had the library in the Glasgow Trades Hall named after him—the William Gallacher Library. In his memoirs, he referred to what I have described as the ugly side of the union movement—the side that members of the Australian Labor Party deny exists.
William Gallacher described the thuggery and the standover tactics of the trade union movement. I suspect that Ms Lee Rhiannon, as she visited workplaces, particularly building sites, would have become aware of the ugly standover tactics that have been employed by some trade unionists. William Gallacher referred to a very well-known document that was produced in the 1920s by Victor Grayson, who, as a Socialist, subsequently won the seat of Colne Valley in a United Kingdom election. The publication, The Fly Fly, and Other Stories , chronicled the ugly side of the trade union movement. He wrote:
? the opening story ? was a sort of parable illustrating the method used by trade union leaders to get a rise from the working class. A group of flies got stuck in a jam pot. One of them pulled a leg out, licked it clean, then—stuck it back into the jam as it pulled out another. After doing this several times, it saw that it was never going to get free. Then it had a great idea! It licked a leg clean, and put it on the back of another fly; this it did until all its legs were clean and free and so, on the backs of its fellows, secured its freedom.
It is that approach that the Opposition wants the Greens and the Labor Party to take a stick to. Some trade unionists want to rise on the backs of their members, to work not in the best interest of their members but in their own best interests. Government members need to recognise that this problem exists. Slowly but surely, it is being revealed. We have heard time and time again from Government backbench members about their belief in the emancipation of the working class—but only when it comes to one union member at the time. They do not believe that everyone should have an opportunity to move forward.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz: No. We believe in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: I am not saying that the same could be said of all members of the Labor Party, but I am saying that I have seen numerous examples of trade unionists using their position of authority to destroy the lives of others, by the use of thuggery and threatening and corrupt conduct. Drawing on the metaphor of the refurbishment of the Trades Hall, I encourage John Robertson and his colleagues to root out those who destroy the good work of trade unionists in looking after the rights of workers on the shop floor and ensure that unionists who have been identified as criminal never get an opportunity to rise on the backs of their workers—unless it is out the door!
It is interesting that this topic is being debated today because just a couple of hours ago the Minister for Industrial Relations, who by his own admission is a strong trade unionist, attacked the conservative side of politics for not supporting his workers compensation reforms. He said that the Opposition turned its back on business, implying that we had committed a crime. He suggested that by not supporting business we had turned away from our constituency. By inference he suggests that the Opposition is backing the workers instead of business. An examination of the history of changes to workers compensation in this State reveals the sheer hypocrisy of this Government. On one hand the Government claims to be the voice of the workers, but on the other hand it enacts workers compensation legislation that, members will recall, resulted in near riot conditions outside Parliament while Labor members skulked through tunnels like rats to enter Parliament. That conflict resulted in Labor members of this Parliament crossing the picket line.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: What about the one finger?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: It also resulted in the Premier, who claimed to be the voice of the workers, standing on the steps of Parliament and giving the workers the "bird", showing one finger, indicating what he thought about them. While we reflect on the refurbishment of Trades Hall and the determination of the labour movement to proceed with its agenda, we should not forget what occurred in relation to the treatment of workers under the stewardship of the former Premier, Bob Carr, and the Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca. Their actions in refusing to meet with representatives of the Labor Council to discuss inimical workers compensation reforms amounted to an absolute disregard for workers. In contrast to that, the Opposition was pursuing the position of endeavouring to strike a balance, and the Opposition has maintained its position in that regard.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn draws to my attention that the Hon. Ian West may not have been a member of this House that during the time of the workers compensation conflict. It is worthwhile noting that the Treasurer, the Hon. Michael Costa, was the general secretary of the Labor Council when the workers compensation reform agenda first raised its head.
The Hon. Tony Catanzariti: A good man.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: I have heard him described as a good man. A cute deal done by Johno Johnson afforded Michael Costa, the so-called workers' voice from Sussex Street, the opportunity to avoid voting on the legislation.
The Hon. Ian West: I was a member then.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: The Hon. Ian West therefore would recall the cute little deal that was done to ensure that Michael Costa could skip through the minefield of workers compensation changes. Just days after Michael Costa was down at Sussex Street allegedly advocating on behalf of the workers, he was in this House as a member of Parliament supporting a government that had pushed through legislation to rip the guts out of workers compensation protection for ordinary workers in New South Wales. If that legislation had been introduced two months earlier, Michael Costa would have been in the street in front of Parliament House with John Robertson, yelling through a loudspeaker to call on the Government not to introduce such workers compensation reforms. However, not a word was heard from Michael Costa in relation to those reforms when he became a member of this House.
I will never forget the cute little deal that was done to enable him to avoid the political heat of the workers compensation reforms. I will never forget the way that the so-called advocates for the working class, the Labor Party and particularly Labor Cabinet members, conducted themselves during the conflict. I also will never forget the way that former Premier Bob Carr stuck it to workers from the steps of this Parliament while Labor members skulked into the Parliament. The Labor Government was not prepared to walk into the Parliament via the main street and confront their members. They chose to take a completely different path. [ Time expired.]
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [3.39 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the Hon. Ian West, which states:
That this House:
(a) notes that the refurbished Trades Hall in Goulburn Street was officially opened on May Day, 1 May 2007, by the Governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir,
(b) congratulates Unions NSW and affiliated trade unions on the opening of the refurbished Trades Hall, and
(c) recognises the contribution of the trade union movement to the history of New South Wales.
I refer to what has become almost a legend, the actions of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834, when a group of six decided to form the Tolpuddle Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. That was the beginning of the trade union movement. However, the group did not realise the extent of the wrath of the authorities that would descend upon them as a result. The group comprised George and James Loveless, Thomas and John Standfield, James Brine and James Hammett, all agricultural labourers from the village of Dorset in Dorchester. Four of the men were very active members of what was then a radical Christian body, the Methodist Church, and were followers of John Wesley, an Anglican minister.
John Wesley was very concerned about social conditions and spent most of his time preaching to farm labourers and coalminers—not in a church but on farms and at entrances to the mines. He promoted not only Christianity but also the right of workers to be treated as human beings and to receive a fair wage to enable them to care for their families. Wesley had a combination of internal piety, or faith, with practical application to the lives of people. The labourers who heard his preaching were greatly influenced by him, and some even became local preachers. However, as that Methodist body had developed outside the Anglican Church, then called the Church of England, its members were regarded as rebels, or radicals, and were very unpopular in the eyes of the authorities and the established church.
That radicalism was further compounded by their daring to set up the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. By the 1830s the plight of agricultural labourers had reached a crisis point, a nightmare of unsympathetic landlords and land enclosures, leading to starvation and general hopelessness with seemingly death or a life of crime the only answer. The land enclosures at that time were an attack on the rights of labouring families and coalmining families. For centuries villagers had been permitted to use common land to grow crops to supplement their very low wages. In a spirit of wilfulness the authorities fenced that community land and prohibited the village families from using it.
The families had regarded the use of that land as their right, but suddenly the lords of the manors of those areas took over the control and responsibility for the land. That prohibition became a major factor in workers facing starvation. At that time wages were very low, perhaps eight shillings a week, and the employers reduced those earnings by a shilling every few weeks. That put further pressure on law-abiding, good families. George Loveless, who became the leader of the society, sought a way out of that impossible and steadily worsening situation. He decided that the only way to combat the pressure from the upper class establishment—the magistrates and the authorities—was to form a friendly society.
It was not illegal to form a friendly society or a workers group, as trade unions had been made legal in 1824. However, a number of laws were available to the authorities; and they were certainly inclined to use those laws. Today we may think it very strange that a unionist or a worker standing up for his or her rights could suddenly be charged under the Mutiny Act of 1797, or an 1817 Act forbidding the taking of unlawful oaths. Those Acts were in force at the time of the founding of the friendly society. The Tolpuddle workers took an oath when they formed that society. Because most of those embryonic trade unions felt intimidated, including the friendly societies, they operated with a degree of secrecy. They did not reveal their memberships or their actions and ensured that prospective members were genuine and not spies sent to report them to the authorities.
In those days, the society had no option but to operate secretly and to cause their members take an oath of loyalty to not disclose the details of the business or decisions made. The authorities charged the Tolpuddle labourers with taking an unlawful oath, a step taken in other instances to stop the rise of the trade unions, especially in the southern agricultural areas. Unions had already gained a foothold in the industrial north, but the idea of a general spread, especially amongst rural labourers, filled the authorities with great concern.
George Loveless and his son James were devout Methodist lay preachers and the idea of using force to implement their ideas was entirely foreign to them. They emphasised, as I do in this Chamber, that governments are meant to be the servants of God, to be ministers of God, and that the people should respect and cooperate with governments. That was the attitude of those men; they were not rebels. There were in those days, however, many rebels who felt they had no option but to resort to violence. Groups had been engaged in violent activity prior to the formation of this group, and that may have been the reason that the authorities came down so strongly on the Tolpuddle men.
In 1830 to 1833 a movement called Swing, consisting mainly of labourers, undertook acts of lawlessness, including the burning of farms and barns, because they were suffering as a result of the lack of funds and food. Many members of Swing were arrested. More than 1,900 went before the courts in 34 different counties, and many were executed. About one-quarter were transported to Australia.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs, who came from that same historic period, were regarded with great fear by the authorities. When they took their oaths one of the people who was present at the ceremony reported to the authorities what had happened, became a witness, and gave the evidence that was required to enable their arrest. As I said, they were already marked men because of their Methodism, which was enough to upset the authorities. The authorities were only too willing to arrest them. When news of this initiation ceremony came to the notice of the authorities all those men were arrested. After a decidedly biased trial—they should have received only a small fine—they were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. In 1834 they embarked on the Surrey for Botany Bay but George Loveless, who had become ill, was sent on the William Metcalfe to Van Diemen's Land six weeks later.
When news of this event and the way in which these men were treated spread across England it caused an uproar. Mass meetings were organised to support them and debates were held in Parliament. As often happens, some good comes from the suffering of martyrs. A petition with between 200,000 and 300,000 signatures was presented to Lord Melbourne at the Home Office. The national trade union movement took up the cause of these men and helped to organise mass rallies. Thirty thousand people attended one of the rallies organised in London in support of these men. Such was the pressure on the authorities that all the men were fully pardoned in 1836— When news of this event and the way in which these men were treated spread across England it caused an uproar. Mass meetings were organised to support them and debates were held in Parliament. As often happens, some good comes from the suffering of martyrs. A petition with between 200,000 and 300,000 signatures was presented to Lord Melbourne at the Home Office. The national trade union movement took up the cause of these men and helped to organise mass rallies. Thirty thousand people attended one of the rallies organised in London in support of these men. Such was the pressure on the authorities that all the men were fully pardoned in 1836—two years later—although they did not return to England until 1839. When they returned they were welcomed as heroes and new farms were secured for them in Essex. I am not sure how those farms were secured—the trade union movement might have helped to buy them—but somehow they became available.
I visited the little Methodist church at Tolpuddle, which is still there today. A plaque has been erected outside the church in commemoration of the actions of these martyrs. Every year in January a church in Australia in the Bulli area commemorates the actions of these men. That church—and there might be others of which I am not aware—continues the tradition of standing up for justice for workers. According to a report written by that church:
Many other Christians have found that their faith inspired them to work for justice. From the second half of the nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century, many of the leaders of the trade union movement in England were also Methodists. Robert Wearmouth's history of Methodism and trade unionism presents a list of eighty full time trade union leaders who owed their career, position and influence to their religious experience.
In most cases it would have been through Methodism. The report continues:
They became trade union leaders because first of all they were deeply stirred by religion.
That gave them the desire to struggle to improve the conditions for workers, which for them was a natural expression of their love and the justice of God. I am pleased to support the motion and I acknowledge that trade unions play an important role in society. Earlier some honourable members referred to bad publicity from some individuals, but that should not be used overall to tarnish the work of the trade union movement in Australia—trade unions that are continuing the tradition of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Even though there is some controversy about the WorkChoices legislation and other issues, the Liberal-Nationals Government thinks it is doing something positive and good. However, it has created greater division in society. On one side we have employers and on the other side we have the trade union movement, which is not a healthy situation. In the past there has been a great spirit of cooperation between employers and unions. It is important to maintain, develop and improve the relationship in the days ahead. I will do all that I can to assist.
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (Parliamentary Secretary) [3.55 p.m.]: I speak in favour of the motion moved by the Hon. Ian West and endorse his comments regarding the contribution that unions have made to the development of New South Wales. In particular, I draw the attention of this House to the union movement's contribution to the social and political development of this State. While it is true that unions have played a critical role in defending the wages and conditions of ordinary workers in this State in protecting their livelihoods and in raising their living standards, their contribution extends way beyond that. For more than a century unions have been at the forefront of most of the great social movements in New South Wales. They have bred great reformers, generated social innovations, and fostered progressive practices.
Contrary to conservative beliefs, the principle of mutual obligation was not invented by the Howard Government. In the nineteenth century unions in New South Wales propagated the principles of mutual assurance and self-help amongst their members by setting up insurance schemes to cover funeral and medical expenses, and establishing workers cooperative stores to reduce the price of consumer goods. The very formation of the Labor Party demonstrated that unions understood that their members' interests were political as well as industrial, and that in order to advance those interests unionists needed to join forces with other progressive reformers.
In 1891 unionists in New South Wales also established Australia's oldest political party—the Labor Party—with the stated aim of bringing "all electors who are in favour of democratic and progressive legislation under one banner, and to organise thoroughly such voters with a view to concerted action at all parliamentary elections". This desire to make common cause with other social reformers led men such as Arthur Rae and others from the Australian Shearers Union to campaign in favour of women's suffrage. Unionists knew that adequate social welfare schemes were needed to complement workers' rights and they came to see women as potential allies in these broader struggles. Women and men in the labour movement joined forces to fight for the basic wage and the eight-hour day, in addition to public hospitals, public schools and pensions for the elderly, invalids, widows and orphans.
Throughout the twentieth century unionists continued this pattern of making common cause with the struggle of others; of solidarity with the disadvantaged where they were found; of political as well as industrial action. Unionists were leaders in the fight against conscription during the First World War. They fought for the rights of the unemployed during the Depression and they were amongst the leading activists in the Aboriginal rights movement of the 1960s. In the radical climate of the 1970s one union took the longstanding labour tradition of campaigning for reform in both the political and industrial arenas one step further. Conservatives everywhere were horrified when the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation [BLF] began putting the concept of social responsibility of labour into practice. The principle held that workers had the right to insist that their labour was not used in socially harmful ways. It went beyond the longstanding Australian union tradition of involvement in both industrial and political campaigns by propagating the novel idea that industrial action could and should be taken for purely political purposes.
As Meredith and Verity Burgmann so vividly describe in their book Green Bans, Red Union , the union not only refused to work on environmentally injurious constructions; it also insisted upon the right of women to work in the building industry on an equal basis with men, and frequently used its power to aid groups such as prisoners, homosexuals, Aborigines, students, the women's movement and poorer homebuyers, even imposing a range of non-environmental bans in their defence. So not only did Builders Labourers Federation members withdraw their labour to protect Sydney's natural and architectural heritage against the greed of developers; they also refused to work at Macquarie University, to protect a gay student from discrimination by an Anglican residential college. The college expelled the student for refusing to lead a celibate life and refusing to seek psychological and spiritual help for his so-called perversion.
In this case the ban threatened hundreds of thousands of dollars of construction work on university facilities and attracted considerable media attention. The university council eventually formed a committee to investigate the case, and the committee favoured the student's reinstatement. Thus a union in New South Wales was responsible for the world's first pink bans as well as the world's first green bans. The groundbreaking approach by the Builders Labourers Federation to social movement unionism was later adopted by many other militant labour organisations around the world. Times change, and the heady days of the green bans now seem a very long time ago. Today unions must fight to defend their right to take strike action at all, even for strictly industrial reasons. Times and tactics change but union values and the union movement's commitment to progressive social change remain the same. As they did at their inception in the nineteenth century, unions are now struggling to defend workers' most basic rights to a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.
Yet, as they were in the nineteenth century, unions are still at the forefront of some of our most innovative and progressive social initiatives. By supporting industry super funds and new financial service providers, such as Members Equity Bank, they continue the tradition that began with the members' mutual assurance schemes that were first run by trade unions more than a century ago. Once again, these innovations represent the best principles of mutual obligation and self help—and consumers apparently appreciate the difference. Today's unionists also still find the time to be involved in a wide variety of social movements. They continue to make their common cause the struggles of the poor and the oppressed, wherever they are.
Union Aid Abroad—Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad [APHEDA]—is the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It continues to go from strength to strength despite the fact that unions and their members have been forced to devote resources to fighting the Howard Government's unfair industrial laws. Founded in the mid-1980s, Union Aid Abroad's income continued to grow in 2006, with a total of $4 million raised through donations from trade unions and their members and supporters. By supporting overseas education and training and union-building and employment-generating projects, Union Aid Abroad works with those whose rights to full and free development are restricted or ignored. It expresses the Australian union movement's commitment to social justice and international solidarity. This is aid with a difference—the kind that really does represent a hand up, not a handout.
Finally, unions continue to view workers' interests in a broad social context. They continue to seek out new principles and pursue innovative campaigns in order to promote and advance workers' interests. The Clean Start campaign for cleaners by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union [LHMU], the ongoing campaign for fair trade run by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the social exclusion work being done by the Australian Services Union are just three examples of this. Another important example is the resources that the New South Wales Public Service Association [PSA] devoted to the pursuit of a new award for librarians based on the principles of pay equity. This successful case was the culmination of five years work by the Public Service Association and involved hearings lasting many months. The case put the recently adopted pay equity principles of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission to the test for the first time.
The principle underlying pay equity is that people should be paid equally for work of equal value. This means not only that women should receive the same pay as men when they do an identical job but also that when men and women do different jobs of equivalent work value they should be renumerated equally. Pay equity involves the assessment of things such as the skills, risks, hardships, difficulties and qualifications associated with different occupations in order to determine their comparative worth. Pay equity is therefore a radical and complex concept that would be pursued only by a union thoroughly committed to the greater cause of gender equality.
Yet the Public Service Association pursued the principle and gained unprecedented wage increases of up to 37 per cent for librarians in the New South Wales public sector—a result that demonstrates just how much money workers may miss out on simply because they have the misfortune to work in a female-dominated occupation. Most importantly, the case set a precedent with implications for other librarians and the potential to have a positive effect on wage rates in female-dominated occupations more generally. I should also mention the ongoing pay equity work of the Finance Sector Union.
Of course, these potential gains are now threatened by the Federal Government's desire to exclude all States from the industrial relations arena. This is one of the many reasons why unions, workers and their families in New South Wales are so bitterly opposed to Howard's grab for near-total power over workers' pay and conditions. The fight against Howard's laws is about industrial rights, but not only that; it is also about concepts of fairness and equity that have broader social implications. It is a debate about the foundations upon which Australia stands. I join the Hon. Ian West in congratulating Unions New South Wales on the opening of the refurbished Trades Hall and in recognising the contribution that unions have made, and continue to make, to the welfare and progress of this State and the wider world.
Ms LEE RHIANNON [4.03 p.m.]: I congratulate the Hon. Ian West on moving this motion. I was pleased to see it on the notice paper and I have looked forward to this debate. I have had a long association with the Trades Hall. I worked there, as did my relatives. I pay particular tribute to the women who have worked at the Trades Hall. Two women have maintained the library and kept the building's history alive. They have made a huge contribution and we know of the Trades Hall's rich history largely through their work. My father, Bill Brown, established the Trade Union Education and Research Centre, the first trade union education body in New South Wales. Working in the Trades Hall, he and other unionists printed the Modern Unionist, which was published monthly.
Some colourful history—as we say these days—is associated with the Trades Hall. The organisations based in the building often had considerable differences of opinion, but they were all working towards a fairer and more just and peaceful Australia. I intend to explore the histories of the various unions that have been associated with the Trades Hall. However, I must first address the contribution by the Leader of the Opposition, who misrepresented the fine history of the union movement. He seemed to be working overtime to see how many times he could use the word "thuggery" in a sentence. I was reminded of the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, who uses the phrase "union bosses" as many times as he can in almost every sentence. He has developed it into an art form. In fact, the Minister does it so often it has become a bit of a joke and people are running books about how many times he will use the phrase "union bosses" in a sentence.
The Leader of the Opposition and the Federal Minister are clearly following their media training and using sensational language in an attempt to get a media grab. It does them no credit. The kind of abusive language and behaviour that we have seen from Joe McDonald has no place in our political or social lives. But the Leader of the Opposition was being deceptive when he expressed concern about so-called "thuggery" and other problems in the union movement. Many organisations, particularly those that have existed for more than a century, face challenges. However, the Leader of the Opposition failed to mention the many criminal acts perpetrated by members of the employer class.
Let us consider the fate of some young people who worked in the construction industry. Sixteen-year-old Joel Exner fell to his death just three days after leaving school. His employer, Garry Denson Roofing, gave Joel no safety harness and did not provide scaffolding. That is thuggery. That young man should not have died. Another employee of the same company fell from a roof while on a job on the Central Coast. He also had no safety harness and there was no scaffolding. The 42-year-old father of two suffered extensive injuries. He has metal plates throughout his body and has been told that he will never work again. That sort of thuggery occurs day in and day out in too many workplaces across Australia. Furthermore, that worker was never contacted by WorkCover, which highlights another problem with the system. Three years ago 17-year-old Dean McGoldrick was killed in a fall while on a job at Broadway. I do not have the name of his employer. As in Joel Exner's case, the boss cut corners and disobeyed safety laws and a young person was killed. That must be called thuggery.
All members supported the legislation about asbestos that came before Parliament. But I remember sitting in the Chamber at the time and wondering what the debate would have been like a couple of decades ago and where Coalition members would have stood then on this tragic issue. We now know that asbestos has killed tens of thousands of people—
The Hon. Duncan Gay: What are you saying? Are you implying that we would deliberately do that?
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I acknowledge the interjection.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: That is a disgraceful allegation and you have no grounds whatsoever for making it.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I acknowledge the interjection. Where was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when we learned that asbestos was dangerous and was killing people and when James Hardie continued—
The Hon. Ian West: Point of order: I ask you to direct Ms Lee Rhiannon to address her remarks through the Chair. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition should cease interjecting.
DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Helen Westwood): Order! I ask that members cease interjecting. Interjections are disorderly. Ms Lee Rhiannon should be heard in silence.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: I take offence at comments made by the member implying that we condoned the use of asbestos knowing that it was harmful. That is an outrageous allegation, and I ask that you request the member to withdraw it.
Ms Lee Rhiannon: To the point of order: I did not name individuals. I was speaking about parties in general. It is certainly part of history that that happened. We cannot rewrite history. I think it would be healthy for this debate to continue.
DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Helen Westwood): Order! I am guided by the ruling of the President given earlier today. Offence is taken by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to a comment made by Ms Lee Rhiannon, and I ask Ms Lee Rhiannon to withdraw the offending comment.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I withdraw any of my remarks that caused offence to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: And to the party.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I withdraw any of my comments that caused offence to members of the Liberal and National parties in this place. I return to the issue of James Hardie. One of the reasons I use this as an example of the thuggery amongst some employers in Australia is that he continued to employ people to work with this substance when he and others who owned the company knew of the dangers of asbestos. That is an outrageous act.
Then we have flag of convenience ships. Flag of convenience ships are ships registered in countries that have no registration fees, no taxes, and no minimum labour or social standards. Those ships ply their trade around the world, making huge profits for the owners of the shipping companies, while workers on board the ships are seriously exploited. In some cases they have actually been thrown overboard—because the captain had lost control or because the ship was coming into a port and would have various problems. Outrageous acts have happened. This is an example of where the thuggery lies. I link this back to the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition because his comments were so one- Then we have flag of convenience ships. Flag of convenience ships are ships registered in countries that have no registration fees, no taxes, and no minimum labour or social standards. Those ships ply their trade around the world, making huge profits for the owners of the shipping companies, while workers on board the ships are seriously exploited. In some cases they have actually been thrown overboard—because the captain had lost control or because the ship was coming into a port and would have various problems. Outrageous acts have happened. This is an example of where the thuggery lies. I link this back to the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition because his comments were so one-sided, misrepresenting this country's history.
I return to the very fine history being considered today. When I read the motion I think of the Trades Hall building and all the life there and the campaigns that flowed from it. One campaign that comes to mind is the green bans. I listened with interest to the previous speaker. The office of the Builders Labourers Federation, to my recollection, was on the first floor, at the north end of the corridor. The campaigns that came from there really did rewrite how unions can work and how community groups and unions can work together.
By the early 1970s, when the green bans period commenced, the importance of the environment was of growing public concern. The word "environment" was coming out of scientific textbooks and generally into people's consciousness. The work of the Builders Labourers Federation's Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens was outstanding. Next Monday night the Juanita Nielson Memorial Lecture will be delivered. Juanita Nielson is linked with the green bans period and the rich history of the Trades Hall. Juanita, the owner of a Kings Cross newspaper, was murdered because of the stand that she took against developers. This was a quite extraordinary period. We should pay great tribute to the Builders Labourers Federation because if it had not taken the initiative of implementing green bans in the 1970s Sydney would be fundamentally different, particularly viewed from this Parliament to Woolloomooloo and down to The Rocks. We would have wall-to-wall skyscrapers in the area rather than historic buildings and areas that are great tourist attractions, homes for thousands of people and a streetscape that is still rich with the history of this city.
That is one exciting aspect of Trades Hall history. I hope my colleagues on the other side do not object to my next comment. When we start to think of the green bans period, we also start to think of what was done by former Premier Askin. Mr Askin vilified Jack Mundey, and there was a famous court case about that. Those who want to talk about corrupt practice and thuggery surely must have a problem with the era of Mr Askin. If members want me to withdraw that, I probably will. But, seriously, there was a problem in that era. I am not getting interjections when I say that.
I would like to go on to some of the other history and speak about the maritime workers, who hold a special place in union history. I am very proud that my two uncles, Rae and Leon Lewis, were wharfies. I recall going to school in the 1960s and reading the newspapers, which time and again carried articles, cartoons and comments that vilified the wharfies.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: Well, they wouldn't deliver our mail when I was in Vietnam.
DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Helen Westwood): Order! The member should be heard in silence.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: That is not true.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: It is. I was there.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: That is not true. You most certainly got your mail, and you know you did.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: We did not. Don't deny that. I was there.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I saw the vilification of wharfies in that period. But I also saw the very fine and generous works of my uncles and other wharfies. Often representatives of charities would be down at the wharves on payday, having been invited by the Waterside Workers Federation to take up collections. There represented not only political causes but also the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, which very much valued being invited to collect money.
I want to make another point about the Maritime Union which I think is relevant to the history of the union movement, particularly given the tone of the debate from the other side of the Chamber: how democratic many unions are. On the last Tuesday of each month the Maritime Union— I want to make another point about the Maritime Union which I think is relevant to the history of the union movement, particularly given the tone of the debate from the other side of the Chamber: how democratic many unions are. On the last Tuesday of each month the Maritime Union—formerly the Seamen's Union of Australia—has a stop-work meeting at 10.00 a.m. so that the seamen and wharfies can meet with officials to discuss whatever is going on in the union, political campaigns and industrial campaigns. Having been to many of those meetings, I can say that they are a lesson to us all in real democracy. We often talk about accountability, but here were union officials being put on the spot and asked why they had made decisions, with people off the ships and on the wharves putting forward proposals that they believe should be taken forward, arguing their cases in the debates. I certainly learnt a great deal about not only how unions work but also how to ensure that democracy goes down to the grassroots.
The Maritime Union has an extremely rich history of support for political causes. It is important to acknowledge that, because as the decades pass these things are often forgotten. The maritime unions played an important role in supporting the independence movement in Indonesia against the Dutch colonialists. It was the maritime unions that in 1946 actually boycotted Dutch ships. That is another example of the selflessness of so many of these people. I will be interested to hear the comments of Mr Charlie Lynn on the issue of the Vietnam war, because the trade union movement played an outstanding role in highlighting how wrong that war was.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: You betrayed the soldiers.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: That is where the member has used this House to misrepresent history.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: I was there. I was at your marches.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I know he was there, but when he came back it was not we who were—
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: You threw paint at us.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: That is not true.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: Who did it then?
Ms LEE RHIANNON: When the member came back the RSL and the Government forgot about the Vietnam veterans. That was very wrong.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: They did not.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: That is most certainly true, and that is why the apology has now been given.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: Point of order: I have to take issue with that because the member is misleading the House. The RSL is a fine organisation, and the service by the veterans is paramount in their role in society.
DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Helen Westwood): Order! There is no point of order.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: It is a curious remark. The Government recently had to make amends. That will be a debate for another time. I again remind members of the importance of the role of the union movement. The Pasha Bulker , a flag of convenience ship, is stranded at Nobbys Beach. I pay great tribute to both the Maritime Union of Australia and the Transport Workers Federation, particularly Dean Summers, for alerting the Newcastle community that the Pasha Bulker is a flag of convenience ship. When he raised this point it was interesting to note how quickly he was attacked by the chief of Shipping Australia Limited, Llew Russell, who came to the defence of flag of convenience ships and challenged the idea that flag of convenience ships had anything to do with the stranding of this vessel. As we know, the investigation is yet to be concluded. But it certainly will be necessary to investigate what impact the style of ownership and management of the ship had on its being stranded.
Australia needs unions. They have played a crucial role in our history many times. Future generations need strong, active unions. I have three grandchildren and I know that the role of unions is critical to ensuring that they grow up in an Australia where respect, cooperation and fairness flourish. My third grandchild was born on 30 May. I was fortunate to be at the birth of Rocco O'Brien. I congratulate his parents, Kilty O'Gorman and Peter O'Brien, and their children, Jack and Kira, on this wonderful addition to their family. Peter and I have been the support people for Kilty at all three births. It has been a highlight of my life. The assistance and care we received from all the staff at the Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick was outstanding.
In the context of this debate I am grateful for, and I know the nurses who assisted us appreciate, the work of the Nurses Association. I feel I have hit the jackpot with my three grandchildren. I share a birthday with my new grandson, Rocco, and my son, Rory. We have some great parties and good times to look forward to. Those good times are very much linked to a healthy, active union movement. I again congratulate Mr Ian West on moving the motion. We must always celebrate our history. At the moment it is all the more important because the Federal Government is resorting to ugly Cold War tactics in its latest election scare campaign.
Dr JOHN KAYE [4.23 p.m.]: I congratulate Mr Ian West on bringing the motion forward. I note his long and highly successful career as an accomplished union leader, representing some of the most vulnerable workers in New South Wales in a way that brought credit to him, his union and its members. I note that Mr West has continued that contribution in this Chamber by raising important issues about the plight of working people in Australia and the efforts of the trade union movement to protect their rights and conditions. I had the opportunity to review the refurbishment of the Trades Hall at the toast to May Day. It was a moving experience to celebrate the skills of working Australians who produced a building that combines the new with the old. I am not the first person to observe that the refurbished Trades Hall has maintained its heritage through celebrating the continuity of where working Australians came from, where they are and where they are going. The continuity enshrined in the building is extremely important because the trade union movement clearly stands at a crossroads, as does Australian society, that has some dangerous paths and also some successful paths that lead from it.
The Trades Hall building is a living celebration of the importance of trade unions to Australia and its society, and the contribution made by trade unions. It is not just about protecting the rights of working people, although that is extremely important. Working people, as individuals, are vulnerable to aggressive employers. We need only look to countries in which trade unions are not free, or to our history when we did not have a viable and successful trade union movement to see the impact of aggressive employers on working people who do not have the advantage of collective action. It is inevitably sewn into the nature of humanity that we will seek to divide and conquer. Employers are no different. When they are given the opportunity, through the absence of collective organisations of working people, they will inevitably seek to divide the workforce and to exploit the workers. It is absolutely true that they are setting the standards of how employers deal with employees, which is what trade unions have done so successfully over the past century and more. It is also about how we set standards within our society and how the powerful are allowed to deal with the less powerful.
The consumer affairs legislation that protects consumers in our society and that we enjoy would not have been introduced into a society in which there was not a vibrant and free trade union movement. That is an example of how trade unions are key to our democracy. There is an essential balance between the political power of capital and the political power of working Australians. Remove trade unions and you remove that balance. Remove that balance and, inevitably, you damage the vibrancy and the success of our democracy. If we do not accept the concept that democracy works best when it is handed over to the wealthy and to the powerful we need some counterbalance in our society to wealth and power. Trade unions have developed and evolved to provide a sensible and effective counterbalance to the political power that inevitably comes from wealth. But trade unions have also been a productive voice of criticism within our society. The actions of trade unions over the past 100 years not only in workplace relations but also in how our society operates outside of the workplace have produced massive beneficial outcomes.
I cannot think of a progressive issue when trade unions have not been in a leadership role to advance those issues that are in the best interests of all Australians. We see that represented in society in general. My union, the National Tertiary Education Union—I am proud to say that, possibly through an accident of history, I am one of its foundation members because it is the result of an amalgamation of another union to which I belong—has been not only a successful and principled voice for workers within the higher education sector but also an advocate for public education, particularly public tertiary education, throughout our society. Similarly, the New South Wales Teachers Federation and the Australian Education Union have stood up time and again for public education when it has come under attack from governments that for either malign reasons or reasons of neglect sought to damage it.
But it is more than the industry the union represents: across the board unions have been a voice for progress within our society. Along with the New South Wales Teachers Federation, the Australian Education Union of which it is an affiliate, the National Tertiary Education Union, unions such as the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union [CFMEU], the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union [AMWU], the Fire Brigade Employees Union [FBEU], the Maritime Union of Australia [MUA] and many other others, unions have stood up time and time again on important social matters through community-wide campaigns.
When we recall the opposition mounted by the union movement against the sale of iron ore to Japan during the 1930s Japanese invasion of China through to the role played by the trade union movement in opposition to the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, we realise that it is very difficult to name a progressive course within our society in which one union or another has not taken a leading role. Across the union movement, affiliated organisations including the Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad Inc. [APHEDA], of which I am a proud supporter, express solidarity for employed and unemployed people throughout the world and support equal rights for women. A key determinant in our understanding of the need to have a society that does not discriminate against women arose from campaigns for equal pay conducted by the trade union movement over decades.
Ms Lee Rhiannon has already mentioned the green bans from which the Greens political movement stems and derives its name. The Greens are proud inheritors of the tradition of taking a stand in favour of the environment. Perhaps the reason why the Howard Government has set itself on a path of destroying the trade union movement is precisely because of the progressive role played by trade unions in our society, or perhaps it is because the trade union movement enshrines the benefits and values of collective activity as part of our culture. The success of the trade union movement has been an embarrassment to people who have an ideological commitment to the idea that compassion is somehow inferior to greed, that mateship is somehow inferior to selfishness, and that cooperation is somehow inferior to competition.
The success of unions collectively representing the best interests of working Australians is an embarrassing reminder of what can be achieved when we work together for our collective and common good. The trade union movement also has been the key to the success of our economy. It is easy for people such as Kevin Andrews, Joe Hockey and John Howard to chant the mantra that the trade union movement, collective bargaining and unfair dismissal laws halt the growth in jobs. That dogma plays out well among some sections of the community, but the unfortunate reality is that it does not stack up against hard, cold evidence. If we examine OECD studies of 20 countries over 20 years, the following three trends emerge unequivocally: first, driving down the minimum wage does not increase employment— The success of unions collectively representing the best interests of working Australians is an embarrassing reminder of what can be achieved when we work together for our collective and common good. The trade union movement also has been the key to the success of our economy. It is easy for people such as Kevin Andrews, Joe Hockey and John Howard to chant the mantra that the trade union movement, collective bargaining and unfair dismissal laws halt the growth in jobs. That dogma plays out well among some sections of the community, but the unfortunate reality is that it does not stack up against hard, cold evidence. If we examine OECD studies of 20 countries over 20 years, the following three trends emerge unequivocally: first, driving down the minimum wage does not increase employment—on the contrary, it actually reduces employment in the long run; second, destroying or weakening trade unions does not increase employment; third, getting rid of collective bargaining and replacing it with individual bargaining does not increase employment.
Governments that are serious about seeking to achieve a successful economy, particularly a successful economy that our children and their children may inherit, will examine the evidence and see that the future of Australia is not as a nation applying downward pressure on wages and not as a low-wage nation. It is simply the case that we cannot, nor should we try, compete against people in South-East Asia earning $2 a day. Any attempt to do that constitutes a race to the bottom. If we try to do that, it is not in our best interests; nor is it in their best interests.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: In what countries do workers get $2 a day?
Dr JOHN KAYE: There are workers in Indonesia who are earning $US2 a day.
The Hon. Christine Robertson: Shame!
Dr JOHN KAYE: It is shameful, and not only for those workers.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: What about Singapore?
Dr JOHN KAYE: In Singapore, obviously that is not the case. But it is shameful that there are workers anywhere in South-East Asia who are earning pitifully low wages and we should not engage in competition with those nations to drive down wages. But the real future for Australia lies in innovation, in being a jobs-rich, high-value-adding economy. Our economy should be built on an export base and we should build that by developing and engaging in industries that the world will soon need. Study after study arrives at the same conclusion. The studies show that to increase productivity, industries must increase innovation by maintaining and increasing union density, encouraging collective bargaining and workplace democracy, treating working people with the respect they deserve and making people part of the process that determines the future of their workplace. That all makes sense. If an industry really wants workers to engage with what they are doing, industry should make workers valued and respected individuals who understand that they are part of a collective effort to manufacture or deliver services. This is particularly true in rural and regional New South Wales.
The great tragedy of The Nationals' support for John Howard's WorkChoices—the legislation that dares not speak its name—is displayed in the rural and regional areas, particularly in small country towns. After all, under WorkChoices, all it takes is one unscrupulous employer in a rural centre to exploit the provisions of WorkChoices and start driving down wages and consequently costs, and all other employers, whether they want to or not, will have to follow suit to remain competitive. It is a death spiral for rural economies, especially for towns such as Goulburn—small rural towns that already are working hard to maintain the local economy.
The Hon. Christine Robertson: Be careful! Goulburn is big.
Dr JOHN KAYE: I am not actually interested in the size of the rural town. I am more interested in small, medium and large rural towns whose economies are at risk.
The Hon. Don Harwin: Point of order: I have to come to the defence of Australia's first inland city. On behalf of the citizens of Goulburn, I am offended. Dr John Kaye should withdraw that remark.
Dr John Kaye: To the point of order: I withdraw any implication about the size of Goulburn.
DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Helen Westwood): Order! There is no point of order.
Dr JOHN KAYE: I am a great fan of Goulburn—its architecture, its people, and its proud tradition of trade unionism.
The Hon. Greg Donnelly: The town of the Big Sheep!
Dr JOHN KAYE: I am also very fond of the Big Sheep.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: That makes a lot of sense.
Dr JOHN KAYE: If I were more sensitive, I would take objection to the implication in the Hon. Charlie Lynn's remark. If Mark Vaile, Kevin Andrews or Joe Hockey were truly concerned about the people in rural and regional New South Wales, they would not allow those parts of Australia to become areas of low wages or destruction of the provision of services. I conclude my remarks by making the observation that we are damaging our economy and our society by the way in which we continue to sledge the trade union movement. I acknowledge and condemn the unacceptable behaviour of a small number of unionists and a small number of union leaders, just as I acknowledge and condemn unacceptable behaviour by a small number of employers, members of employer bodies and representatives of employer bodies. But an attempt to extend the opprobrium of that behaviour to the entire union movement and to all union leaders is a slander on a grand scale.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: You have just condemned all the employers in rural areas.
Dr JOHN KAYE: That is not true. It is similarly reprehensible to cast aspersions on the Australian Labor Party because unionists and union officials have misbehaved.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: Just because they will not have you as a member.
Dr JOHN KAYE: I digress to point out that I resigned from the Australian Labor Party in 1983 and never again sought membership of that political party, and I never will.
That is probably correct—much to the Labor Party's disadvantage. In conclusion I make the point that it is damaging to our society to turn on the Labor Party—a party and the leaders of which I criticise regularly.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: I have never ever heard you.
Dr JOHN KAYE: That is because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition does not listen. It is damaging to our society to turn on the Labor Party on the basis of the people who are members of that organisation coming from a union background or being at some time or other union leaders. That is as insane as is criticising the Coalition because of the number of people who come from legal backgrounds, small business backgrounds or academic backgrounds.
There is no doubt that unions are democratic organisations. Union organisers and officials have experience in running a union and being involved in democracy. That has to be accepted as an important and appropriate preparation for becoming a member of this Parliament. I join with other members in this House in celebrating the proud history and the proud tradition of trade unionism and trade unions. I join with other members in this House in congratulating Unions NSW on the refurbishment of the Trades Hall, a building which has become a benefit to not only the organisation but to all society. I commend the motion to the House.
Motion by the Hon. Greg Donnelly negatived:
That this debate be now adjourned until the next sitting day.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN [4.42 p.m.]: I would like to continue the line taken by the Leader of the Opposition in his excellent contribution about his experience with unions and unionism. He spoke about the hypocrisy of the State Labor Government in its approach to WorkChoices.
The PRESIDENT: Order! There is too much audible conversation. The Hon. Charlie Lynn should be heard in silence.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: The Opposition has asked a number of questions of the Minister for Industrial Relations regarding the Pink Salt restaurant in Manly, and the recent misleading campaign against WorkChoices, which was highly evident during the recent State election campaign, as well as the misuse of information and the willingness of the Government to criticise local small business operators, who are doing the right thing by their employees. I refer to another recent incident at the Lilac City Motor Inn in Goulburn, where a very respectable working couple, were almost outed as being exploiters of their employees. They were mentioned on the front page of every newspaper and they appeared on every television station in the country.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Charlie Lynn should be heard in silence.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: That caused an enormous amount of stress to that hardworking Australian couple in the city of Goulburn, which an earlier speaker has just realised is in New South Wales and is bigger than a post office and a hotel. The people I have mentioned were shamefully exploited by the Federal Labor Party in its zealous campaign against WorkChoices. It was okay to out those people, but another major nation company, called Work Directions—
The Hon. Rick Colless: Who owns that?
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: That is an interesting question. I think the managing director of that company is related to the Federal Leader of the Opposition. As the adage goes, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. In that case a very successful business person was making the best use of what she regarded as the law for her employees. The silence from the Labor Party was deafening on that issue. Its hypocrisy was exposed.
The Hon. Henry Tsang: Point of order: The motion is about the refurbishment of Trades Hall, about Unions New South Wales and about the contributions of the trade union movement. It is not about WorkChoices or the Labor Party. I ask you to draw the member back to the leader of the motion.
The Hon. Don Harwin: To the point of order: Towards the end of the point of order, the Hon. Henry Tsang mentioned the third paragraph of the motion which is very general and wide-ranging. It is about the contribution of the trade union movement to the history of New South Wales. If the Hon. Henry Tsang is saying that the current debate over WorkChoices is not significant to that history I would certainly be very surprised. I wonder what we have been talking about during private members' business so often over the last few months, let alone years. It is almost inconceivable that the point of order taken by the Hon. Henry Tsang could be upheld.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I take the point raised by Hon. Henry Tsang. Debate on this motion has been very broad ranging. The Hon. Charlie Lynn may continue but only within the leave of the motion.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: The union movement has been very active in the role of WorkChoices. It is interesting how one's views on unions are formed, usually through one's experience. I can understand how people who work in inner city areas belong to unions, but in a small country town such as the one I come from—a little town called Orbost in the Snowy Mountains—that can be quite different. I remember my first experience with unions was when I was working for my father, who was the local Orbost carrier. The railway station was on the western side of the Snowy River and the township was on the eastern side. Everything that was carried into the town, and to all the farms, was carried by my old man. And all we had was a bag hook and a trolley
At the Orbost butter factory dad and I loaded 490 boxes of butter, 56 pounds a box, three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and sent them off the Melbourne. We had to pick up every one of those boxes and put them on the trolley, and then take them off the trolley and put them on the train. It was pretty hard work. A row of workers brought the butter boxes to a window, and I would put them on the trolley and dad would stack them.
The Hon. Trevor Khan: Were you a member of a union?
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: I was too young, I was about 11 at that time. I was a skinny little fellow, but I could handle a 56-pound butter box. One day, one worker, a six foot three inches fellow, Jimmy Edlington, came along with one butter box. I had to wait until Jimmy's mate, also about six foot, came along with a second butter box, because I handled two at a time. I said to the old man, "Why are they carrying one butter box, dad?" He replied, "Oh, the unions have arrived, son, they are only allowed to carry one box." I said, "The unions must be pretty stupid." My view on that has never changed.
The Hon. Marie Ficarra: They were stopping enterprise.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: Yes, they were. They actually halved the productivity of the Orbost butter factory, which consequently closed down. I recall also that Orbost was a timber town.
The Hon. Trevor Khan: It was.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: Yes, it was a timber town; dairy cattle and timber. The entire union movement, with the support of the Greens and every other feral who could not get a job in the city, came up there. They used to tie themselves to trees and do all sorts of things. They shut down the timber industry. None of those blokes belonged to the unions. My brother was a logger and one bloke was a feller. The one thing I remember about that timber town was the way it managed the bush. There was a sustainable industry using world's best forestry practices, and the protestors shut it down. Orbost is no longer a timber town; it suffered the same fate as other towns up and down the coast.
Government members know that I spend a lot of time in Papua New Guinea. According to world's best forestry practices we are not allowed to harvest our timber in Australia, so we have to import it. And where do we go to do that? The countries that are being exploited for that purpose are our Third World neighbours in the Pacific. Forests in that region are being clear felled, raped and pillaged. Greens members would not dare go to one of those countries and lie down in front of a bulldozer. If they did, they would very soon form part of the compost of the area because I can assure members that Malaysian and Chinese loggers would drive straight over the top of anything and anyone in their path; they would not stop.
When I was in the army all my time was spent in western Sydney. I remember going to have a look at a big warehouse in the area. The manager showed me through a building in which many Vietnamese were working. I recall that a big burly bloke was sitting in one corner of the building. The manager said to me, "Do you know what his job is?" I said, "No, what is it?" He said, "He is a union representative." I said, "That's good. What does he do? " The manager said to me, "His job is to make sure that these blokes here do not work harder than the blokes over there."
The Hon. Helen Westwood: Oh rubbish!
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: I was there; I saw him. His job was to make sure that one worker did not work harder than another. People such as those who were working in that warehouse come to Australia as immigrants and are keen to get ahead. Many have two or three jobs and they work hard. But this bloke sitting in the corner was making sure that the workers did not establish new boundaries. He saw to it that they worked for only so many hours, that they worked at a specific productivity rate, that they were paid, and that they moved on. He was stopping workers from achieving their potential—which I suppose is what compulsory unionism is about. It keeps workers in line; it keeps them at a certain standard.
For years Labor's cry has been, "If you do as you are told, you will get your pay and you will be looked after. Just vote Labor." The union movement can no longer do that. I have heard other members refer to the proud history of unionism. I acknowledge that there is a place for unionism in this country; indeed, I support unionism. However, Government members forgot to mention a few black spots in that history. Anyone with a good knowledge of World War II will relate the time our troops were on the Kokoda campaign was probably our darkest hour.
Members will recall the impact on our troops of unions going on strike in Townsville and refusing to load the ships that were taking stores to our Diggers who were fighting in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. The unions refused to load the ships because they wanted more money and more ice cream! So our soldiers were brought in to do the work of the unionists. And they did not muck about. All the big, tough unionists stood aside, because they knew what was good for them. The soldiers were looking after their mates. That is a really black spot on the history of the Labor Party. I heard Ms Lee Rhiannon saying earlier that there was no strike action relating to soldiers serving in South Vietnam. Well, I inform her that while I was there I did not get my mail for about three months.
Dr John Kaye: Because nobody likes you!
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: If I had received letters from people like Dr John Kaye I would have sent them back anyway. In fact, things were so bad up there as a result of the postal unions not delivering our mail that when we returned to Australia we ran a campaign called "Punch a postie"! The unions complained and said, "The Diggers are picking on us because we will not do our job and send them their mail." They screamed like cut cats back in Australia. Where were our defenders then? As conscripts all we were doing was serving the Government of the day. Anyone with an issue should have taken it to the Government of the day; it had nothing to do with the soldiers. The Vietnam veterans were the first veterans in our history ever to be betrayed by our own people. Earlier Ms Lee Rhiannon said that when our soldiers returned from Vietnam no-one threw paint at them. Well somebody did. And somebody threw eggs at them and called them baby killers. Vietnam veterans are now living all over the country—
The Hon. Eric Roozendaal: Point of order: I have been listening intently to the honourable member's speech. He has been for a trip down memory lane, up a few side alleys, over a few hills and down a few streams. But the motion has nothing to do with Vietnam veterans. We are here to talk about Trades Hall and the union movement, not to hear about how the member thrived on punching posties, or about paint being thrown at returning Vietnam veterans. The honourable member is straying well and truly from the motion. It would be appropriate for you, as President, to bring him back to the motion. We do not want to go for a trip down memory lane. He should confine his comments to the motion before the House.
The Hon. Don Harwin: To the point of order: The Hon. Charlie Lynn clearly is talking about events that happened in New South Wales, that are part of our history and that he says involved the trade union movement. Clearly he is in order, and I ask you to rule that way.
The PRESIDENT: Order! Again I remind members that they must speak only within the leave of the motion before the Chair. The Hon. Charlie Lynn may continue in light of that ruling.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: I acknowledge that not all unions gave support to our enemies—North Korea, North Vietnam and so forth—but some did! It is not a proud part of our history.
Dr John Kaye: Name one union that supported North Korea or North Vietnam. I challenge you to name one union that officially supported them.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: The honourable member has had his go. For a start I refer to the waterside workers and the builders labourers. And a few others would have been right in there. I will take that question on notice and obtain the information for the member.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind members that all interjections are disorderly. I ask the Hon. Charlie Lynn to address the Chair for the remaining 4 minutes and 57 seconds of his contribution.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN: And I ask members not to interrupt me further with frivolous points of order and comment. A challenge exists for unionism now, and I do not think unions have come to terms with this. There is a market for unions. Most people who need the protection of unions are well represented, but I believe that they should have the opportunity of choice. Not everybody wants to be in a collective arrangement. Those who do not wish to be in a collective arrangement should have the opportunity to negotiate their own deals with their employers. However, I believe that there is a place for volunteer unionism. There is a whole army of subcontractors out there in need support.
I notice that the Hon. Ian West is taking notes. I am quite prepared to give him further information on these matters if he needs it. If unions provide a service that workers need, workers will join those unions. That would have our full support. But I am talking about choice. The Labor Party's thinking has not changed. Earlier the Hon. Eric Roozendaal said I was taking everyone for a trip down memory lane. Earlier the Hon. Ian West made a trip to the 1800s—about the time of his twenty-first birthday! As I recall, he referred to the nineteenth century. He certainly took us on a trip down memory lane. The challenge for unions is to accept the good and bad points of their historical development and to look at providing incentives for people to join together and to be offered protections.
I acknowledge the contributions of other members to the debate. But I urge Labor members not to be hypocritical. If they attack the Lilac City Motor Inn in Goulburn and put it on the front page of every newspaper in the city, they should take the same approach to WorkDirections. They cannot be selective. Labor members cannot damn one without damning another for doing the same thing on a much bigger scale. I look forward to their acknowledging that fact and reminding the Federal Leader of the Opposition of the benefits of WorkChoices, as ably demonstrated by the leadership of WorkDirections. We are currently enjoying the benefits of the Howard Government's economic record since 1996. We have low interest rates, almost full employment and many opportunities throughout this country for those who wish to work—
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted to permit a motion to adjourn the House if desired.
The House continued to sit.
Item of business set down as an order of the day for a future day.